On Wednesday, October 26th, the Future Society ran its first “Future of Food” event. Our speaker was Bruce Friedrich, a founding trustee of New Crop Capital (NCC), a venture capital fund that provides funding to companies that are producing plant-based and cultured alternatives to meat, dairy, and eggs. He is also the executive director of The Good Food Institute (GFI), a nonprofit organization that promotes plant and culture-based alternatives to animal agriculture.
- Food provided by Whole Heart Provisions
- Introduction and 30 minute presentation
- 45–60 minute Q&A
Bruce gave an exceptionally clear and multifaceted account of our efforts to improve global food options titled “The Future of Protein: Blending Markets and Food Technology to Solve Some of the World’s Biggest Problems.” This post will attempt to go deeper into the arguments for investing in plant-based alternatives to meat and dairy and give these issues their due attention and explanation.
In 2006, the United Nations (UN) released a report on the environmental impacts of animal agriculture called “Livestock’s Long Shadow”. According to their findings, the animal agriculture industry, the practice of breeding, raising, and turning animals into food, is responsible for about 40% more of our climate change than all forms of transportation combined.
Producing food, whether plant-based or animal-based, for a projected population of 9 billion by 2050 is naturally going to have substantial energy requirements.
The global demand for meat is projected to grow significantly by 2050. However, the amount of energy that we need to input in order to create animal products completely overshadows the energy requirements for our plant-based foods. In 2014 researchers showed that chicken, which is the least polluting and most efficient animal to eat, still creates 27 times more CO2 on a per calorie basis and 40 times more CO2 on a per protein calorie basis than legumes. This is due to the fact that we need to feed chickens 8 calories of foods like soy and peas as inputs for every 1 calorie of food they produce for us. The way Bruce put it, making our food choices in this way would be like taking 9 plates of food, throwing 8 of them away and eating just 1 every time we’re hungry.
This link between environmental degradation and the current state of our food production is rarely considered to be of paramount importance. Yet the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization concluded that animal agriculture is “one of the most significant contributors to the most serious environmental problems at every scale from local to global”, including “problems of land degradation, climate change and air pollution, water shortage and water pollution, and loss of biodiversity”.
In 2015, representatives from all 195 of the world’s countries got together to negotiate the Paris Agreement, an agreement that specifically focuses on global targets we need to reach in order to avoid being permanently locked into catastrophic warming. We would need a large downshift in the production of animal protein in order to meet the goals of the Paris Agreement, regardless of what political approaches we took to solving the problem. Unfortunately, we have to deal with that challenge alongside the fact that these political aims will be stifled by an administration that is headed by Trump, who has been outspoken about the fact that he wishes to tear up these agreements and lead our country in the opposite direction.
Americans now live in a political environment that will be exceptionally slow to respond appropriately to climate issues. As of early March 2016, Gallup reported that 64% of Americans are worried a great deal/fair amount about global warming. However, we can’t rely on our political institutions to take environmental matters as seriously as we do anymore. Our climate solutions will either come out of innovations that don’t rely on governmental oversight or they won’t come at all.
Leaders in Silicon Valley, from Eric Schmidt, the Executive Chairman of Google’s parent company Alphabet, to Bill Gates, in his “Future of Food” blogpost are describing our transition into plant-based foods as one of the top tech trends of our time.
Currently, plant-based alternatives to dairy make up about 10% of the entire dairy market. That number represents both a solid market share and a relatively new environment for consumers. It’s only in the past decade that one can visit their local grocery store and count on having several soy, almond, and coconut options in the dairy isle. However, our plant-based protein offerings are much more ripe for innovation. Even if we expanded the availability of meat alternatives by about 40x, that would only represent a 10% share of the market.
The plant-based movement has been using ethical arguments for changing diets for decades. However, the environmental and ethical appeals are not the most effective way of getting people to switch their choices.
Research and opinion polls into how people make their food choices is straightforward. Taste and price are the two main criteria, with health as a third factor farther down the list. As soon as these products can taste the same or better than animal meat and be slightly less expensive, people will overhaul their current consumption habits and start to systematically disrupt one of the most energy intensive industries on our planet.
We are working globally to push past the natural experiences that we enjoy in each domain of our senses. For sight, we create art. For sound, we create music. For smells we create perfumes and fragrances. For touch we create clothes and furniture that are soft. And for taste we innovate with our food and drinks.
Taste innovation presents a unique opportunity to simultaneously have a positive effect on other important facets of our lives. By investing in a better future for our food and drink, we are investing in much more. We are investing in the climate, air, water, biodiversity, humanity, economic opportunities, animal rights and much more.
The Good Food Institute, a brainchild of Mercy for Animals, is one of the leading organizations in this space. To get more involved, you can consider donating or promoting their causes, as well as looking for opportunities to shift yourself and others towards plant-based choices. Furthermore, we hope to host more discussions on this topic and will keep you posted with news on events and speakers.